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For defense attorneys, the biggest jury verdicts are the ones that come in at zero. Last year, for example, Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold successfully defended against an $8 million suit brought by a woman who said that her 7-year-old son Martell was fatally crushed by a poorly manufactured electronic gate. It was among three California cases on The National Law Journal‘s list of big defense wins in 2001. Plaintiff Patricia Stephenson, who was represented by San Francisco attorney Debra Bridges, alleged that the gate should have had a mechanism that would make it go in reverse when an object or a person blocked it. Stephenson said she suffered psychotic episodes and was admitted into a psychiatric hospital twice after her son died. At trial before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick Zeka, Stephenson sought millions in compensatory and punitive damages in Stephenson v. Stanley Works, 7682436. Bridges put on a series of witnesses, including Jordan Kinkead, a mechanical engineer. Kinkead testified that the electronic gate had several manufacturing flaws, which made it unsafe. But during cross-examination, Sedgwick’s P. Beach Kuhl produced photos of the engineer’s house in Atherton — which had a similar electronic gate to the one that trapped Stephenson’s child. “We proved that he had the same equipment and had it on there for years,” said Kuhl, now a retired partner. Kuhl argued that case with Janet Alexander, a former Sedgwick associate. Michael Welch, a name partner at Concord’s Caudle, Welch & Umipeg, represented the Ross Villa homeowners association, the group that owned the Oakland property and the gate. The jury voted 12-0 for the defense on negligence and defective design claims. The jurors also voted 10-2 for the defense on the failure-to-warn allegation. Eventually, the plaintiff was ordered to pay some defense court costs. Also, the plaintiff was ordered to return a $107,000 settlement she had reached with Ross Villa because she had set aside the settlement agreement to pursue the trial, Welch said. Bridges made a motion for a new trial, which was denied by Zika. And when the defense team surveyed the jurors after trial, Kuhl said, they repeatedly referred to Kinkead’s testimony. Related chart: Big California Defense Wins

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